COVID-19 Devastating for Nearly 14 Million Displaced, Refugees and Migrants in East and Horn of Africa

Photo: WFP/Hugh Rutherford
Published June 22, 2021

NAIROBI – Nearly 9 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), 4.7 million refugees and asylum-seekers, and hundreds of thousands of migrants in East and Horn of Africa are suffering some of the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report from IOM, the International Organization for Migration, and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

Life amidst a pandemic: Hunger, migration and displacement in the East and Horn of Africa,” focuses on the pandemic’s impacts on mobility, livelihoods and food security in regional migration and hunger hotspots.

“Migrants, refugees and other forcibly displaced persons are among the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised groups globally and understanding their needs, and our progress towards meeting them, is essential to understanding where we stand on the SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) commitments,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM Regional Director, East and Horn of Africa.

COVID-19 increased the vulnerability of displaced people and migrants in 2020 and their challenges were exacerbated by reduced funding for humanitarian operations, a drop in crucial remittance flows caused by travel freezes and job losses for hundreds of thousands of migrants. These groups depend heavily on remittances, which are the most significant source of external financial inflows to Africa and are essential for low-income communities and households.

As job and income opportunities shrank abroad, increased numbers of returning migrant workers headed home empty-handed and required extensive support to reintegrate, placing considerable strain on their home communities.

The study also found that 54 million people were acutely hungry in the East and Horn of Africa in 2020, including households in rural hungry areas, as well as hungry urban poor populations hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

Sudan, Ethiopia and South Sudan were among the 10 countries with the worst food crises globally in 2020 – with 9.6 million, 8.6 million and 6.5 million people respectively acutely hungry – while Burundi has one of the highest levels of chronic malnutrition or stunting of children globally. According to the study, the Tigray region in Ethiopia has become a new hunger hotspot since late 2020 with more than 4 million people facing severe hunger due to conflict.

As the impact of COVID-19 lingers on the economy and livelihoods, the number of hungry people is projected to remain high throughout 2021.

The IOM-U.N. World Food Programme report found the COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted the mobility, public health and socio-economic opportunities of most people in the region. Other pre-existing, new and recurring challenges will continue to destabilize the region and strain the capacity of affected populations to cope with shocks, including conflict, insecurity, drought, floods and desert locusts. This will have implications for migration and hunger, with broader consequences for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“COVID-19 has only added to the challenges faced by these already vulnerable populations. We must come together so those in need are not forgotten and receive life-saving humanitarian assistance to meet their food, nutrition and other vital needs,” said Michael Dunford, U.N. World Food Programme Regional Director for Eastern Africa.

IOM and U.N. World Food Programme are joining forces through this study to advocate for priority actions on humanitarian assistance, inclusivity and access to critical services, labour mobility, immigration, data and evidence-building and gender-sensitive responses.

The organizations are urging UN Member States to step up action on realizing their commitments to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals on poverty, hunger and partnership for the goals.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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